Tax credit for companies making COVID-19 protective supplies adopted in Georgia

Georgia businesses that make personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer amid the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a new tax credit.

The state Department of Community Affairs’ Board of Directors approved the new credit Wednesday along with changes to an existing state tax-credit program benefitting job creators that will let companies use their pre-coronavirus employment numbers to qualify for the credit.

Both tax-credit revisions were included in legislation the General Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed earlier this summer and come as businesses across the state struggle to recover from the economic slowdown spurred by coronavirus.

With the new credit, businesses manufacturing items in Georgia used to shield people from contracting the virus would be eligible for an additional $1,250 tax credit per job. Those supplies include gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, helmets, goggles and respirators.

The credit looks to be a boon for more than 250 businesses in Georgia that flipped the switch on their operations to churn out protective gear, including clothing manufacturers and breweries. It would apply to jobs created in those qualified companies through 2024.

Companies that qualify for the state’s Quality Job Tax Credit would also be able to count the number of employees they had in 2019 toward claiming their credit for the 2020 and 2021 tax years.

Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner Rusty Haygood said businesses that have more favorable employment numbers in 2020 or 2021 will also be able to apply those numbers to the credit if they choose.

“It does give flexibility for employers through these challenging times,” Haygood said at a board meeting Wednesday.

The change aims to help businesses in economically struggling areas located in largely rural parts of the state and for certain industries like manufacturing, warehousing, telecommunications and research that have lost employees amid the pandemic.

Kemp, along with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, praised the two tax-credit measures shortly after their passage in late June as critical to bolstering businesses that have been hit hard by virus-prompted closures and diminished revenues.

“This legislative package will shore up those efforts, ensuring that those in the Georgia businesses who have adapted to meet these challenges head on know that we have their back,” Kemp said.

University System of Georgia sets record for degrees awarded

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley

ATLANTA – The University System of Georgia (USG) awarded a record-high 70,879 degrees during the last fiscal year, despite the challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

That marked a 4.5% increase over fiscal 2019 and the largest year-over-year increase since 2011, when the university system joined the Complete College America program with its emphasis on earning a degree.

“This success is thanks to the hard work of USG’s 26 public colleges and universities, which have taken critical steps to increase support and help students stay on track toward their degree,” system Chancellor Steve Wrigley said. “I am especially grateful to our students, faculty and staff for all they do to ensure more Georgians enter the workforce with a college credential.”

The number of degrees the university system has awarded each year since 2011 has risen by more than 29%, far outstripping enrollment growth of less than 5%.

Over the last five years, the number of students completing their degrees within six years has increased by 9% to 61%, moving Georgia up 10 places to 20th in the state-by-state rankings.

The record for degrees awarded came despite a systemwide conversion from in-person classes to online instruction for much of the spring semester, as COVID-19 began to spread across Georgia. While the virus still holds the state in its grip, students are returning to the 26 campuses this month to resume in-person learning.

QAnon backer Greene wins runoff in Northwest Georgia Congressional GOP primary

Marjorie Taylor Greene (right) attends a protest over impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in Sandy Springs on Oct. 9, 2019. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Controversial businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary runoff election for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District Tuesday night, all but guaranteeing her a seat in Congress representing the reliably Republican northwestern part of the state.

Greene, who owns a construction company, fended off criticism of her residence outside the district and her apparent support for the QAnon conspiracy theory in uncovered videos to claim victory over her Republican opponent, neurosurgeon and toy store owner John Cowan.

She goes on to face the lone Democratic candidate Kevin Van Ausdal, an implementation specialist, in the Nov. 3 general election.

Barring a loss in the November election, Greene is poised to replace five-term U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who announced late last year he would not seek re-election to a sixth term in the 14th District, which stretches from Paulding and Haralson counties north through Rome, Calhoun and Dalton to the Tennessee line.

Originally signaling she would seek to challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Roswell, for the metro Atlanta 6th Congressional District, Greene amassed a roughly $1.5 million campaign warchest in the 14th District race as she leaned heavily on pro-gun, anti-abortion and pro-President Donald Trump stances.

“The GOP establishment, the media and the radical left spent months and millions of dollars attacking me,” Greene said Tuesday night. “Tonight, the people of Georgia stood up and said that we will not be intimidated or believe those lies.”

Greene jolted into the national spotlight following her strong finish in the June 9 primary during which she won 40% of votes, not enough to avoid a runoff but nearly double the amount of the second-place finisher, Cowan.

Shortly after, Greene faced backlash over past online videos reported in the Washington Post and Politico in which she appeared to promote the anti-government conspiracy theory QAnon and dismiss the racial-justice underpinnings of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

A slew of high-profile Republican leaders including Georgia’s Congressional delegation and U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., quickly soured on Greene following the media reports on her apparent embrace of the QAnon theory and other inflammatory comments.

In a debate last month ahead of Tuesday’s runoff, Greene did not answer a yes-or-no question on whether she believes in the QAnon theory, opting instead to condemn former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She also voiced belief in the “deep state” theory concerning alleged conspiratorial acts by U.S. intelligence officials that have been discussed by many conservative media commentators.

“I, like many Americans, am disgusted with the deep state who’ve launched an effort to get rid of President Trump,” Greene said during the July 19 debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.

Greene staked her campaign on hardline conservative positions on immigration, gun-ownership rights, abortion opposition and denouncing Chinese trade practices. But most especially, she touted her staunch backing of the president.

“I’m 100% pro-life, 100% pro-gun, and I’m the strongest supporter of President Trump and always have been,” Greene said in a May debate.

Andrew Clyde, Devin Pandy winners in 9th Congressional District runoffs

Andrew Clyde

ATLANTA – Gun shop owner Andrew Clyde handily defeated state Rep. Matt Gurtler Tuesday in a runoff for the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District seat.

Clyde, who led Gurtler 56% to 44% with 100% of the vote counted, will face Democrat Devin Pandy in November in the contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who is leaving the House to run for the U.S. Senate.

While Clyde has never run for public office, he touted his experience suing the Internal Revenue Service successfully in 2013 after the federal agency confiscated more than $940,000 from his company. He subsequently testified before Congress in support of legislation prohibiting the IRS from seizing legally earned money.

Gurtler, elected to the state House of Representatives four years ago, ran afoul of Georgia Republican leaders for constantly voting against GOP-backed bills, earning him the nickname “Dr. No.”

In his defense, he argued many of those measures gave government more authority than it was intended to have under the Constitution. That small-government stand drew the support of the Club for Growth, a national limited-government organization that funded television ads attacking Clyde.

Another group, Protect Freedom PAC, paid for ads touting Gurtler’s status as the most conservative lawmaker in the General Assembly who would serve as an ally to President Donald Trump.

Opposition to Gurtler prompted many state Republican leaders to back Clyde, a Navy veteran who served 28 years including three combat deployments in Iraq and Kuwait.

He grew the small firearms business he launched in his Athens garage in 1991 into a nationwide company with two locations.

Pandy, an actor and Army veteran, captured the Democratic nomination to oppose Clyde by trouncing Brooke Siskin. With 100% of the vote counted, Pandy held 68% of the vote to just 32% for Siskin.

Pandy pledged to become a voice for rural Georgia in Washington, D.C., and to push for improved services for the nation’s veterans. He also advocated an aggressive push to combat climate change and a pathway to citizenship for young people brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

Siskin maintained during the campaign that her experience as a business owner would help prepare her to serve in Congress, as would her activism on behalf of victims of domestic violence.

She was arrested in Gwinnett County last month for refusing to comply with a court order to turn over guns and ammunition in her possession.

Clyde enters the general election campaign as a heavy favorite in the conservative heavily Republican 9th District, which covers northeastern Georgia from Gainesville and Athens north to the North Carolina and South Carolina lines.

Union workers protest Loeffler over unemployment benefits in Atlanta

Union-represented airport, hotel and retail workers protest outside the Atlanta office of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Aug. 11, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Dozens of airport, restaurant and hotel workers protested outside the Atlanta office of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., Tuesday over stalled talks in Congress on a new federal aid package amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Talks over a second round of federal coronavirus aid hit a roadblock last week as Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate failed to strike an agreement over how much funding to send state and local governments and whether to reup the $600 weekly unemployment benefit.

That prompted President Donald Trump to issue executive orders on Saturday calling on states to issue eligible recipients $400 weekly unemployment checks starting this month, of which $100 would have to be covered by state funds.

The president also ordered federal housing officials to identify funding for homeowner and rental assistance, and for U.S. Treasury officials to defer payments on certain payroll taxes through the end of the year.

Loeffler, who is running a tight race to hold her Senate seat in the Nov. 3 general election, praised the president’s actions last Friday as talks in Congress fell short. She has supported passing new federal coronavirus aid funds that focus on boosting financial support for jobs, schools and health-care facilities, on top of divvying out unspent dollars from an earlier round of assistance passed in March.

Loeffler also brought legislation in June that would set the federal unemployment benefit at an amount equal to what workers were making while previously employed.

“Here in Georgia, we have thousands of jobs to be filled,” Loeffler said in a Fox News interview last Friday. “And sadly, millions have lost their jobs, but we need to make sure that we aren’t providing incentives for people to stay home.”

Union-represented workers in Atlanta protesting the lack of action on Congress’ part disputed that characterization Tuesday, arguing jobs in many industries like hotels and retail are still scarce and that the $600 weekly benefit has been essential to keep laid-off workers afloat.

Felicia Fashina, 55, said she has tried returning to her job at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport but that her employer has not brought back nearly as many workers as before the pandemic, forcing “skeleton crews” of shorthanded staff to juggle multiple tasks.

Now, her school loans and medical costs she covers for her elderly mother are piling up, even as she remains unable to afford a $500 monthly COBRA insurance payment offered by her employer to out-of-work staff.

“No one’s asking to get rich,” Fashina said. “We just want to survive, that’s all.”

Rodney Watts, 54, has also been unable to pay for COBRA insurance after being sent home from his 10-year job as an airport overnight supervisor in March amid the pandemic. While it would help, he is skeptical the reduced $400 weekly benefit will actually take effect.

“Is it going to go through?” Watts said. “There’s a lot of red tape behind it.”

Many critics of Trump’s executive order have questioned whether states like Georgia will be able to cover the 25% costs of the $400 weekly benefit, noting state governments are already facing huge budget cuts spurred by the economic slowdown.

New weekly unemployment claims in Georgia slowed earlier this month as initial claims filed in total since March 21 reached nearly 3.4 million, more than the state Department of Labor has handled during the last eight years combined.

The ongoing response to COVID-19 looks to be a major issue in the race for Loeffler’s Senate seat, to which she was appointed late last year following the decision by former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to retire due to health concerns.

Her main Republican opponent in the free-for-all special election, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has supported lowering the virus-prompted federal unemployment benefit or doing away with it entirely. The leading Democratic candidate in the race, Rev. Raphael Warnock, has called for the $600 weekly amount to remain in place.

Loeffler has also focused much of her campaign on policing issues and touting support for law enforcement agencies amid nationwide protests since June against police brutality and racial injustice.

In recent weeks, Loeffler has brought a legislative package in the Senate aimed at increasing penalties for criminal gang members, property destruction during protests and local governments that do not prosecute violent protesters and rioters.

Nearly two dozen candidates including Loeffler have qualified for the Nov. 3 special election to fill the remaining two years of the Senate term formerly held by Isakson. Candidates from all parties will be on the same ballot, and a runoff will be held in January if no candidate wins more than 50% of votes in November.

This story has been updated to include information on legislation Sen. Loeffler filed in June regarding unemployment benefits.

Perdue: Politics blocking progress on coronavirus aid measure

U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – The federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)  has given the economy a critical boost by letting financially struggling small businesses keep their employees, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said Tuesday.

But presidential politics is getting in the way of attempts to deliver more federal aid to small businesses, Perdue told an online audience of Georgia business and political leaders at the annual Congressional Luncheon sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“In the middle of a presidential year, I’m hopeful but not optimistic a deal will get done,” he said.

Perdue said the PPP – part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Congress passed back in March – saved about 1.5 million jobs in Georgia through loans to small businesses averaging $103,000.

Nationally, about 50 million Americans remained on payrolls because of the legislation, added Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who appeared on the chamber program as Perdue’s guest. The bill played a major role in reducing U.S. unemployment from a peak of 15% in April to 10.2% last month, Scott said.

“The PPP is like a friend showing up when you’re down,” he said. “Had we not stabilized those businesses, we would have lost those 50 million jobs.”

But Perdue said the current effort to put together another aid package in response to various impacts of COVID-19 is in trouble, with majority Democrats in the U.S. House, the Republican majority in the Senate and the Trump administration a long way from reaching agreement.

For his part, Perdue is trying to get legislation he introduced last month to help schools affected by COVID-19 included in the next coronavirus relief package. Legislation being offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks about $104 billion for schools, $74 billion for K-12 and $30 billion for colleges and universities.

“We don’t want our children to lose six months or a year in educational progress,” he said.

Perdue said the need to reopen schools safely during a pandemic is particularly critical for at-risk students on the edge of failing and for children who live in rural communities without broadband access.

As he stated in a recent campaign ad, Perdue also called for policing reforms that while stopping short of de-funding police agencies, would include increasing the recruitment of minority officers, stepping up de-escalation training and improving databases used to track complaints of abuse.

“People want the law to be enforced,” Perdue said. “But we also have to have confidence that our police officers are one of us.”

Police reform legislation Scott is sponsoring in the Senate is another victim of the political polarization rampant in an election year. Scott said some House Democrats have expressed a willingness to work with him on the bill, but the effort has been sidetracked in the Senate.

The congressional luncheon, held every August in Macon, was conducted virtually for the first time. The program concluded with a video tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, a youth leader during the Civil Rights Era, who died last month at the age of 80.